Unmasking Serious Trolling on Twitter

The act of serious trolling online continues to be a pervasive and inglorious form of harassment, bullying, and intimidation. Whether targeting celebrities, organizations, or other individuals, serious trolling seeks to provoke anger and outrage among social media users, with the ultimate goal of causing individual harm. In this briefing, OHPI seeks to shed light on this shameful practice and encourage social media users to report instances of online trolling.

What is Trolling?

As defined by James Hanson with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, trolling is the “[creation of] discord on the Internet by starting quarrels or upsetting people by posting inflammatory or off-topic messages in an online community.” While the very nature of trolling is not in itself a cause for concern, serious trolling leverages and coordinates a myriad of attacks against multiple entities, seeking to humiliate others because of their race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other protected characteristics. As many examples in this briefing suggest, trolling affects everyone across industries, gender, and mainstream notoriety.

Help us report these examples.

Targeting Caitlyn Jenner

Caitlyn Jenner is a notable American media personality and retired Olympic athlete. In 2015, Jenner revealed she was a transgender woman and was featured in a Vanity Fair shoot later that year. She is highly regarded as one of the most famous transgender personalities in the world, with many taking inspiration from her confidence and pride in her gender transition. However, she has become inundated with a barrage of homophobic and transphobic remarks, including attacks because of her former affiliation with the Republican party.

One transphobic comment reads “you mean he* right?,” Jenner is purposefully misgendered as a man; a hurtful and transphobic remark to disregard Jenner’s gender identity.

Responding to news that Jenner expressed interest in joining rapper Kanye West (who is married to Jenner’s stepdaughter, Kim Kardashian) as his Vice Presidential nominee for the upcoming Presidential Election, one comment describes the Kardashian family as a product of “inbreeding,” and suggests that “@realDonaldTrump can grab [Jenner] by the pussy.” The comment suggests that Jenner should experience sexual harassment, in addition to making a disdainful comment about her family.

Another transphobic comment seeks to humiliate Jenner, writing that “Bruce Jenner (Caitlyn Jenner’s former identity) regrets having transformed his body in place of the woman.” This comment refers to Jenner’s past gender identity as a man, to intimidate and shame her for being transgender.

Another transphobic comment leverages Jenner’s past identity, reading: “Bruce, mate [sic], get your [sic] dick out you nonce!” In addition to being transphobic, the tweet refers to Jenner as a “nonce,” a British slang term for a sexual predator. This is one of the numerous examples of remarks falsely associating members of the LGBTQ+ community with pedophilia and sexual misconduct.

This last comment denigrates Jenner as an “embarrassment to [the] trans(gender) communities of America,” and calls for Jenner to “turn in [her] wig and have a seat.” The comment also ridicules Jenner for her support of U.S. President Donald Trump, asking her to get rid of an apparent “male privilege [sic].” This is an example of a multilayered trolling that attacks both her political affiliation and gender identity together.

Targeting James Charles

James Charles is an icon within the LGBTQ+ community. A makeup influencer at just 19 years old, Charles became the first male ambassador for the CoverGirl beauty line and amassed millions of followers across his social media channels. Charles is a frequent target of homophobic messages and remarks. A rise in the number of hateful messages may be correlated with being involved in a number of scandals regarding his involvement in the beauty industry.

One tweet refers to Charles as “the most disgusting looking [slur] on [the] planet,” adding “I [sic] can’t believe nobody killed that fucking thing yet.” This distressing comment uses homophobic slurs and reduces Charles as a “thing,” and suggests he should be killed.

Another comment refers to Charles as “fucking ugly” and a “fucking c_ _t.” The comment also questions Charles’ career, adding: “You are a boy, why have you done make-up to yourself? [sic].” In addition to more homophobic slurs, the tweet uses gender norms of males to suggest that Charles should not be in the beauty industry simply for being male.

Another two tweets use homophobic language against Charles. The second tweet refers to Charles, among other salacious things, as a “fatass dumb c_ _t,” and disparagingly (and falsely) labeling him as a “child molest[er].”

Targeting Lizzo

The rapper mononymously known as Lizzo is an American recording artist and flutist, and a recipient of three Grammy Awards and 8 nominations. Her success has brought an amassed net worth of around $10 million dollars, numerous album releases and several other awards. Unfortunately, because of Lizzo’s self-positive messages, she has become a frequent target of racist and fat-shaming remarks.

This post reads: “[If] she…started twerking [sic] in front of me, I would have drop-kicked [sic] her fat ass. I can’t stand that fat bitch. @lizzo is so disgusting,” followed by several vomiting emojis.

Another quote refers to Lizzo as a “fat bitch,” adding “I’d say she should drop the mic, [sic] but she really needs to drop the weight.”

Another tweet attacks Lizzo’s physical appearance, describing it as one that “no one wants.”

This last tweet, in addition to calling Lizzo “#fat”, uses a racial slur against Lizzo by using the “#n” word.

Targeting Lilly Singh

Canadian-Indian comedian Lilly Singh is a popular YouTube star who became the first woman of Indian descent to host a late-night comedy show in the U.S. Throughout her career, she’s received two People’s Choice Awards and a Shorty Award for Youtuber of the Year. Still, even as accomplished as Singh has become, the comedian has become a frequent target for her Indian heritage, in addition to her bisexuality.

This comment describes Singh as a “talentless clown,” and expresses disapproval that Singh, because of her Indian heritage, uses colloquialisms on her show. “Even whites can pull that off better than her,” the comment adds.

Another post labels Singh as a “talentless hack,” in addition to spewing strange and off-message remarks in regard to “genocide” and “propaganda.”

In a post back in January, where Singh proudly identified herself as a “bisexual woman of colour,” one comment writes that “everyone [sic] who supports [Singh’s announcement] are just as much [sic] of attention whores as [Singh].” The comment clearly attempts to stoke anger and de-legitimize Singh’s sexuality.

Other Generalized Trolling – Incitement to Suicide

Many other posts actively call on a number of individuals to commit suicide.

Ironically, in response to sharing a tweet of dealing with trolling, Indian comedian Radhika Vaz was targeted with a message reading that Vaz’s parents should have “aborted” her, following a message encouraging her suicide.

In response to a tweet from Nick Cannon, an American talk show host, who’d expressed sadness over the death of his friend and even hinted at his own suicidal thoughts, one user replied: “…maybe we’ll get lucky!”

Another tweet, directed at an anonymous individual, calls on them to “kill [themself]” because of a disagreement in a refusal to vote in an upcoming election.

Everyone is Targeted

As the title of a recent OHPI briefing suggests, this paper is merely “treading water in an ocean of hate.” While this analysis focuses exclusively on Twitter, serious trolling continues to be disseminated across all social media platforms, and affects both private citizens and public personalities of all genders, backgrounds, careers, religions, and sexual orientations.

We ask that social media platforms continue to further their detection and removal of trolling and hate speech and encourage those who come across trolling to report the content.

Osiris Parikh – OHPI Analyst based in U.S.A.

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The Online Hate Prevention Institute is a Registered Charity that tackles all forms of online hate. You can support our work by making a donation at https://ohpi.org.au/donate/. You can also join us on Facebook, or join our mailing list.

This article is part of our August 2020 campaign Countering Online Trolling. The full plan for our campaigns in 2020 can be seen here.